Given all of the ups and downs that a given MLB player will go through their career, it not exactly difficult to understand the idea that no player is truly ‘done’ before 30. This should go doubly true for 27-year old pitchers who are supposed to be in their primes, even though they might be coming off a disappointing season.
But boy, folks like Tommy Hanson sure make it difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel, no?
It’s not just that the former top prospect had his worst season — he did that in 2013, but it’s really how bleak the overall picture was that his tenure with the Los Angeles Angels will be remembered for. And if rumors are to be believed, it could be a short one too, one that will have lasted just 73 big-league innings over 13 mostly poor starts.
They say action speaks louder than words, and that the pitching-needy Angels — who are also likely to let Joe Blanton walk — are even considering non-tendering Hanson should tell you everything you need to know about what they think his future will look like.
While some might say that such a move would be hasty considering that the right-hander is a relatively young, high-upside arm still under team control, it might actually be the right decision.
You can basically pick any number of evaluators here to see that Hanson has all but hit rock bottom at this still-early stage of his career. Declining K/9? Check (9.83, 8.30, 6.90 from 2011-2013). Career-high counting numbers? Check (5.42/1.55 ERA/WHIP, .282 BAA). More signs of deteriorating health issues? Check (forearm injury). Declining velocity? Oh, why not (91.1, 89.6, 89.9 mph average fastball from 2011-2013).
Whatever the number is, this was a pitcher on the downswing. And to think that he might get a raise in arbitration from his $3.73 million salary in 2013? No wonder why the Angels want to walk away.
But is Hanson done — as in capital ‘D’ Done? Well …
It might not have looked like it to Angels fans who’d watched his starts, but things may not have been as bad as they seemed for the right-hander. Yes, that’s a relative term, but just play along even here. The first thing to note is that Hanson did post a 4.65 FIP, which suggests that he may have faced some wonky issues beyond his control despite outperforming his ERA.
One of those might be his below average strand rate, which sat at a career-low 67.7 percent on the season. His .320 BABIP is a career high, though that may be correlated to his career-high 22.6 percent line-drive rate. On the other hand, he was a pop-up generating machine at a career-high 16.2 percent in 2013, so something isn’t quite right there either as he was getting his share of weak contact too.
In general, the sense seems the be that Hanson spent much of the season adjusting — perhaps to a not-100-percent shoulder/arm, to reduced velocity, etc. He tweaked his repertoire, going with his fastball much less (44.3 percent in 2013 vs. 54.2 in 2012) as it’s easily his worst pitch (-14.3 wFA), instead going more with his breaking stuff, where at least his slider (not that throwing it 30.9 percent of the time is going to help his arm) and curveball are both above average.
The biggest change actually comes from his change-up (7.3 percent vs. 1.9), which is a -1.2 wCH pitch, but considering that he doesn’t have much of a fastball to set it up … that’s not so hard to see.
Still, getting away from being a fastball pitcher has allowed him to coax more swings at offerings outside the zone (64.1 percent vs. 59.9), which perhaps explains the number of pop-ups. Could this continued adjustment help him improved his numbers closer to the mid-4.00 FIPs that he’s had the last two seasons?
More importantly, is that going to be worthwhile for the Angels, whose back end of the rotation consists of a couple of question marks at this point?
Considering that they did think enough of Hanson to give up a legitimate asset for him in Jordan Walden, you’d think that it’d make sense to give him one more look in 2014, even just to see if he can turn things around in his age-27 season. I mean, it’s unlikely going to cost too much even with a slight raise in arbitration, and really — how much worse can it get?